Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rules Review - Test of Honour

So for those not aware, Warlord Games recently released Samurai miniatures game called Test of Honour.  I read through these rules a couple weeks ago when the preview first because available and was pleasantly surprised.  I held off posting a review because I hoped that the "missing" rules would be available in the coming weeks and/or some other concerns would be elevated when it launched.  As I will get to, those concerns still exist but I still think this rule set deserves some attention.  At least it seems so to me, as I (also) love this genre.

This review will have some holes though, as there is content for the game that is not available for free.  In fact, only the Main rules are free, the Battle Guide and various "cards" are not.  You can find the rules over at the Warlord Games site.

Scale of Game & List Building:
Sadly I am really not sure.  For list building, the main rules say to refer the scenario being played in the Battle Guide for recruiting rules.  Which is fair enough and potentially interesting that game size could vary scenario by scenario, potentially even asymmetrically.  The description on the website claims a small skirmish game of 5-20 models, although this seems opposed to how the game is packaged (most commoner boxes are 10 models each, shouldn't this really be 3 or 6 if the game size target is 5-20 models, and you mutli-base commoners in groups of 3?).

It should be noted too, and I think has been stated by Warlord Games, that this is not really a game of Samurai vs Samurai.  It seems to be a game of 1-2 Samurai leading a small band of more common troop types.  No real issue to me, I only point this out as it may matter to some.

Standard Rules:
Building on the typical Warlord activation mechanic from Bolt Action (pulling dice from a bag), Test of Honor tweaks it slightly.  Instead of dice, it uses tokens where samurai are denoted with a different token than commoners.  Additionally 3 fate tokens are added to the bag.  Note, there are not separate tokens for each side.

The commoner vs samurai token distinction is made because commoners can only make 1 action per turn, whereas samurai can make 2-3 actions per turn (notice I didn't say per activation!).  And of course, commoner tokens must be assigned to commoners and samurai tokens to samurai.  You assign the token to a model(s) and complete its action.  If the number of tokens is less than the number of actions it can take, then they can activate again later that turn.

After the action is completed, the next player draws a token and makes his action.  The turn ends when the 3rd fate token is drawn (whoever draws the 3rd fate token then gets to draw first the next turn).  It appears there is no other use for the fate tokens and drawing the 1st/2nd one results basically a "pass."

So you have a mostly (due to the fate token "pass" above) alternating activation system, that limits who exactly you can activate each time, spreads the activation of multiple activation models across the entire turn and the turn length is unpredictable.  Seems pretty interesting to me, although I am sure some will not like it.

Ability test, such as Test of Aim or Test of Wits, are fairly simply.  Roll the number of appropriate special dice, specified by the model.  The dice are made up of swords (1 and 2 quantity), blanks and X's.  If you have 3 or more swords, the test success unless there are more X's than swords (X's and blanks do not cancel out any swords).  There are modifiers that can add or subtract dice from the pool but unfortunately these are scattered throughout the rules.

Melee is handled in a similar manner with a couple of interesting twists.  A Test of Aim is conducted, if successful and the target of a melee attack has an action available then it MUST avoid.  Avoid requires a Test of Agility and if it succeeds the attack is negated, if it fails or if the target has no actions available the attack lands.  Note, if the target attempts to avoid, remove the appropriate token from the bag and place it on the model/card.  Moving from there to the damage step requires a Test of Strength:  failure is a light wound (< 3 swords), success is a heavy wound (removing the model).

The second twist is triggering weapon bonuses (or fumbles, doh!).  If on a strike, avoid or damage you pass with 5 or more swords you can trigger a weapon specific bonus.  These have a variety of affects but add a great deal of flavor.  I hope the details are captured on the back of the model cards to avoid constant referencing (but to be honest its not terribly burdensome, I think.  Maybe).  If you roll more X's than swords, the you fumble depending on the type of roll (strike, avoid or damage).

Everything else, presented in the main rules, is fairly typical.  There is morale, some rules for groups of ashigaru/commoners, terrain, movement, typical actions, etc.  Nothing else really special to note nor to poke at.

Other Things:
The main rulebook is nicely represented and flows very nicely.  At 16 pages total, and really the rules only make up about 8-10 of those, it seems like a fairly concise set of rules.  It lacks a table of contents or an index but at that few pages is it really necessary?  All that being said though, it is really crying out for a cheat sheet to gather all the modifiers, weapon bonuses/fumbles & descriptions, and actions into one place.  Not a big deal but it would be nice if it was already done for people esp for the starter box.

I would have liked to see some uses for the Fate tokens other than the end of the turn.  Perhaps to trigger a special ability or allow a reroll.  Just seems like a missed opportunity there.

Also, for me, I wish there was some "fantastical" element to the game.  As a Warlord Games' game, I knew going in this was probably not going to be the case.  But my love of the Samurai genre stems from Legends of the Five Rings, so ultimately I really want something that provides that kind of fantastical element as well.

Maybe I missed it, but I really think having samurai near ashigaru should have some kind of benefit.  I would hope that this is at least the case morale but I don't feel like going back to check.  Even if it does confer a bonus for morale, I think I would still like to see more.  Or at least variety.

Some Issues:
As I hinted in the beginning, there a few things that worked out differently than I had hoped.  I am extremely disappointed in how this game is being packaged:
  1. The complete rules (ie, getting the Battle Guide) requires a $50 buy in of the starter box.  Additionally, I have to go this route to get the skill cards, injury cards, dishonour cards and upgrade cards.
  2. The "expansions" also introduce additional cards.  So I have to buy the Ronin expansion just to get a particular card I want, even though I don't want to field Ronin?  Ugh.
  3. The packaging of the expansions makes no sense to the scale of the game, IMO.  Why do I want 10x commoners when the game scale is 5-20 models total and I group commoners into 3s?  I mean, I know why they are in packs of 10 (for people wanting the mins for mass battles) but it still irks me that I would have to buy more than I would need.  Reminds me of some of the packaging BS Games Workshop used to do (maybe still do).
Also I realize a model company wants to promote model sales but I really would have preferred not being locked into Warlord Game models.  Yes, I could still technical choose to use other models but I would still have to buy Warlord Game models just to get stupid upgrade cards and stuff.  Hell, I can't even get the "full" rules without buying a $50 starter box with 35 Warlord Game models in it.  And because of the expansion box stuff, that is not even the "full" rules.

Having to buy Warlord Games models also irks me because I have never been impressed with their "organic" models (tanks/vehicles seem like they are nice, people not so much).  Right now, without having seen them, I going to say that I don't want them.  Esp if these are just the old Wargames Factory samurai models.  And even if they are pretty good, I have had my eyes set on several other lines of samurai miniatures I would still want to own before these.  

Lastly, this game appears to be very lethal.  And realistically that is how it should be.  Samurai swinging katana's were extremely lethal, as was most melee combat.  I just worry that for a skirmish sized game, the lethality may cause some very large game swings and that may ultimately make, or contribute to, it not being a satisfying experience.  Realism does not always make compelling game play.

Test of Honour looks to be a pretty interesting ruleset.  I was very surprised by it.  I personal thought, as I know others did too, Warlord was just "slapping" some rules together because they had a bunch of Samurai models from their acquisition of the Wargames Factory line of samurai.  But it really appears some quality work went into the rules development.  I really hope they are doing some demos of this game at Adepticon.

My irritation is that, IMO, someone royally screwed up a decent game later in the process.  To me this could have really appealed to the Saga or Bolt Action crowd.  But I don't see them buying into this packaging BS.

Oh well.  Maybe soon I will revisit the Torii and/or Ronin rulesets.  Btw, those defunct "Windmills" links to the left.  This is what they are supposed to be about.  Questing to find a good/desirable ruleset/miniatures/games/projects/terrain for those genres.  I would go ahead and link this review into that windmill but since this is the only one that would be in it, seems pointless right now.

Adding this to the list of games of this genre:  Samurai Skirmish


  1. People always try viewing this as a traditional Miniature Wargame when it is more of a Miniature Board Game. Especially with the way it is packaged. Which is my biggest complaint. I wished I could just buy upgrade kits that include the heads, individual metal figures, and then generic kits that those augment.

    As is. One to three copies per gaming club/group and you are good.

    And people wonder why I want to make my own game instead of getting involved with games that aren't quite what I am seeking.

    1. Thanks for visiting JT. I agree that a club/group could make due with a limited number of copies and expansions. Its just that I don't think approach is healthy for a game, because I am compelled to point out to interested parties they would have to buy everything (equating to a couple hundred dollars) to have all the options and rules. Unless they can read French (translations are available for everything, for free, on the Warlord site)...

      It a shame, because I think it is a really good system. Daisho really is the next best option to me, and while I like it, it is a little bland mechanically.

  2. I agree whole heartedly about Test of Honor being done wrong. Haven't gotten to the Daisho review yet. Been foing through them in order.

    Wonder how you would feel about my game... Basically it is Test of Honor with Bushido style Melee Exchanges but rolled simultaneously allowing those units involved to mortally wound each other ala classic movies, a slightly altered activation mechanism that is closer to bolt action (If your colored gem is drawn you activate your own model of your choice), a Wound and Armor system that ties into action points as well (when remaining wounds less than action points you lose action points), can always avoid or react even when exhausted at a -1 penalty, and using essentially the same dice as Spartan Games's Halo Tabletop Games in 2(3 counting damage if rolled with the attacks) colors.

    In testing so far the system feels a bit more fluid and a bit more tactical. We even added back in the samurai and commoner tokens as a second draw as a test for potentially having each player have a Colored Samurai and Commoner tokens in a mass bag. Oddly it made it too swingy... Still figuring that one out.

    1. It also uses a slightly different setup for reloading alongside ranged weapons being modified in range and having a drop off effect bases on a range increment system. On top of using the wielders strength.

    2. Hey sorry for the delay JT (December holidays and family commitments got the best of me). Your approach to your game sounds interesting and intersects some mechanics that appeal to me, although I have wavered about some of my "favorite" mechanics lately.

      For instance, I have really liked the opposed roll mechanic esp when it is something like you have come up with where both participants can be mortally wounded. That being said, it seems to me that it represents a challenge when "balancing" range attack models that are basically not at "risk" of a retaliation strike. Traditionally this is done via point costing or composition restrictions, and are burdens I would worry about placing on those already difficult design areas. Idk though, just thinking out loud. lol

      Anyway, best of luck to you on the game!

    3. No worries holidays are always a hectic ride.

      I have been working on both a LotR/The Hobbit SBG, Bushido, or Test of Honor style melee combat solution. Same with ranged attacks and even an Infinity style reaction mechanic.

      So far I have found LotR/Hobbit SBG to scale well while the others give room a bit more tactical thinking via actions while offering room for more resource management.

      As for balance... I am aiming to have a ToH or Bushido style allowance for a full army of archers or the like. Which even LotR/Hobbit allows.

      Seems a magic system is the hardest thing for me to figure out how to handle. Already figured out how I want it too work just need to figure out how I want it to fit in with the game. The biggest thing is getting it arranged to be without any force restrictions and allow all levels of options (Heroes, Elites, and Troops) to have access to all systems in the game.

      Honestly it is getting a bit like I need to make 2+ systems that just share models.

  3. I just played the first scenario last night with my L5R proxies. I do not like the Wargames Factory samurai--they are a nightmare and I have built model kits for 40+ years...I do like the metal miniatures Warlord has made and the metal heads. The North Star figs for Ronin were also great and I've augmented my force with those. I just wish I hadn't sold off my L5R, which had some great models. I think Test of Hono(u)r could be modified for magic with the Wits characteristic and some homemade cards. Might the game have a Hordes/Warmachine feel with magic, though that might not be a bad thing.